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Bringing awareness into light

The month of April has been designated as National Autism Awareness Month, and the women of Alpha Xi Delta are aiming to help raise awareness about the disorder on campus.

On April 2, Alpha Xi Delta, as well as other fraternities and sororities, began displaying a pair of blue lights outside of their respective chapter houses to show support for Autism Speaks’ Light It Up Blue campaign.  Autism Speaks is a philanthropic organization whose goal is to “change the future for all who struggle with an autism spectrum disorder.”

“The point of Light It Up Blue is so when you are walking around campus, you’ll ask someone next to you why the Greek houses are lit up and it will get the conversation started,” said Alexa McKeon, one of Alpha Xi Delta’s co-philanthropy chairwomen.

According to data from, an estimated one in 68 children will be born with a form of autism and more than 3.5 million Americans are living with an autism spectrum disorder.

“Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disorder, but it is also the least funded,” said Caroline Sweny, Alpha Xi Delta’s other co-philanthropy chairwoman. “This is why awareness is so important.”

A dollar of each blue light payment goes directly to Autism Speaks. Additionally, the chapter has set up an online fundraising campaign where donations can be made electronically to Autism Speaks.

But Sweny mentioned that raising dollars for Autism Speaks isn’t necessarily the sole purpose of Light It Up Blue.

“The whole point is awareness of autism and understanding of people with autism, celebrating those with autism, and pointing out needs of those with autism,” Sweny said.

Fraternity and Sorority Life Coordinator Erin Courville spoke to the importance of raising awareness about autism and Alpha Xi Delta’s efforts to make their philanthropic endeavors visible to the Durham community.

“It’s very visual, and people can drive by and see it and know what [fraternities and sororities] are doing,” Courville said.

Light It Up Blue isn’t the only way Alpha Xi Delta supports Autism Speaks. Sweny said that each semester, the sorority hosts a major philanthropic event that benefits the organization. Last month, money was raised through an event called “Pancake FrenXi,” where fraternities and sororities could order pancakes with the proceeds going to charity.

Chapter president Tara Kenney spoke about how the Greek community has come together in support of  raising awareness about autism.

“It takes a lot of time and planning to have all of the Greek organizations participate in this event, but [McKeon and Sweny] have accomplished just that,” Kenney said. “We have been thrilled with the amount of support we have received for this event.”

Kenney also said that nationally, Alpha Xi Delta has raised over $3 million for Autism Speaks.

“It is a great feeling to know that I’m part of an organization whose efforts go a long way and truly help people,” Kenney said.

“A light needs to be shed on autism, and through Light It Up Blue, we do that quite literally,” Sweny said.

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